T H E
D E T A I L
Monday, October 14, 2002
BREAKING NEWz you can
compiled by Jon Stimac
Bullets, Locations Hold Clues to Shootings -
THE WASHINGTON POST - Oct. 8, 2002
are using the latest forensic science tools in effort to solve series of
Shops May Require Fingerprints For Sellers -
KOLO News, Reno, NV - Oct. 9, 2002
issue of fingerprinting customers at pawn shops and secondhand dealer stores
first came up in 1997, but was defeated....
Bond Is Denied to Suspect In Nanjemoy Rape, Robbery-
THE WASHINGTON POST - Oct. 10, 2002
fingerprints found in home matched the prints with those of suspect who had
Own Slip-ups Often Trip Up Killers-
THE SEATTLE TIMES - Oct. 12, 2002
the criminals own errors trip themselves up...
Crime Frozen In Time -
THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH - Oct.13, 2002
the ropes prisoners used to hang themselves to what may be one of the oldest
fingerprint cards in America, the St. Louis Police Library houses the
history of crime-fighting in the city....
Good morning via the "Detail,"
a weekly e-mail newsletter that greets latent print examiners around the globe
every Monday morning. The purpose of the Detail is to help keep you informed of
the current state of affairs in the latent print community, to provide an avenue
to circulate original fingerprint-related articles, and to announce important
events as they happen in our field.
Last week, we looked at
a neat case from Tracy Saur, Latent Print Examiner from the Grand Rapids,
MICHIGAN Police Department, Latent Print Unit. This week, we introduce
and explore some terminology and the concepts behind latent print examination
It is becoming increasingly important for latent print examiners to feel
comfortable articulating the correlation between the examination process and the
scientific method. It is also important that we have a firm grasp on how
we view ourselves. In the first Daubert Concept (The Detail 54 and the
Daubert Card) we explore fingerprint examination as a science and practitioners
as scientists. However, I would argue that it might be possible for one
latent print examiner to consider him / her self as more of a pure scientist
than another, who might perform more technical duties.
In reality, we are all different. We have different educations, perform
different tasks for our agencies, and we are viewed differently by our
administrations and even our peers. Where do you consider yourself on the
scale from "pure" scientist to laboratory technician? A latent print
examiner with a PhD in science who conducts fingerprint-related research and teaches
forensic science courses on a collegiate level might be more in touch with
"pure" science from an academic viewpoint. On the other hand, a latent
print examiner who has been through an "on-the-job" hands-on training experience
with a qualified senior examiner and mostly process items of evidence, only
occasionally having the opportunity to conduct latent print comparisons, might consider
themselves more a technician than a scientist. In reality, every time a
side-by-side examination is conducted, science is practiced, and the
practitioner applying the science is an applied scientist. This fact
remains independent of education, background, or job title. So where does
the word "art" belong in a description of latent print examination?
After discussions of the Daubert Card commentary (See the
Detail 54 or the
Articles page) regarding latent print examination and
science, Craig Coppock e-mailed the following contribution representing the
viewpoints of several examiners in Spokane on this subject:
Are you a scientist?
The problem with latent print examiners answering this
question with a resounding and authoritative YES, is that many examiners do not
have a degree in some aspect of science. However, by a simple analysis of the
definitions of science, and of art, we begin to understand that a combination of
applied science and art is the best description for fingerprint identification.
But, does that make you anything less than a scientist?
We all know that the categorical divisions of science, known as scientific
fields, is for the most part a human need for simplification. Obviously, it is
not practical nor is it possible for an individual to study all aspects of
science. We also understand that scientific fields overlap. Is the field of
mathematics used in any other area? Does geology and paleontology have anything
in common? Yes. The fields that relate to fingerprint identification include
biology, with the specific areas of anatomy, genetics, embryology, and of course
statistical modeling (Mathematics). Thus, the real question is what is science
as it relates to the fingerprint examiner?
The scientific method withstanding, the concept of science itself can also be
divided into areas or fields. These include:
Art has many sub-definitions. For
the fingerprint examiner the applicable definition of art references “specific
skill and its application”(Webster’s 1). Hence, the fingerprint examiner is a “practitioner
of fingerprint science, with specific applied skill.”
This blending of science
and art is very common. A computer scientist uses the art of trouble shooting
to make their application work. Photography is based in physics, and chemistry,
yet the photographer uses this scientific knowledge with specific applied
skill. This gives us the dual nomenclature the “art of photography” and its
companion “photographic science.” Art, in this respect, is simply the human
aspect of the applied sciences. Yes, you are a scientist. You are “learned” in
the science of fingerprint identification (Webster’s 2). You don’t have to know
everything about science. In fact, nobody does. According to a familiar
ignorance principle: The more you learn, the more you realize how much you
Craig A. Coppock
Spokane County-City Forensic Unit
The Weekly Detail,
Webster’s (1) New World
Webster’s (2) Seventh
Collegiate Dictionary 1971
In order for a particular latent print examination to have occurred and for an
individualization to have been effected, the practitioner, regardless of their
skill or ability, must have understood the fundamentals of fingerprint
examination; that friction ridge skin is unique and permanent. Further, a
philosophy and methodology was followed in order for that opinion to be reached.
If a correct philosophy and methodology are not understood and followed, then
the accuracy of that examination may not have been ideal.
We understand that throughout the years, there have been different philosophies
and methodologies for latent print examination. A philosophy which
surfaced relatively early in the field of fingerprints involved minimum point
thresholds. For example, an examiner may have required 8 "points" in the
same relative position in order for an identification to have been reported.
The newer philosophy of Ridgeology accounts for all three levels of detail upon
which examiners have always relied. It states that 1) ridge formations
(any of the three levels of detail, not just "points") 2) in sequence (higher
standard than "relative position") 3) having sufficient uniqueness 4) to
individualize (or exclude every other source) are required in order for an
opinion of individualization to be formed.
Other methodologies have taken into account the presence or absence of a
particular level two detail within a grid location. However, the ACE-V
methodology with a side-by-side comparison allows for the examiner to take into
account other ridge features as well as higher degrees of distortion during more
difficult examinations. Further, ACE-V follows exactly with the scientific
method. We saw in The Detail 54 that Analysis corresponds with
Observation, Comparison corresponds with Experimentation, and Evaluation
corresponds with testing the tentative conclusion to form a final conclusion.
Verification is repeating the process, and of course the results are reported, a
final step in the scientific method.
It is possible for a four-year old to look at two impressions, say yes or no,
and be correct, but obviously their average accuracy level will be far from
ideal. Even if they only gave results they were sure about, over-all
accuracy would be high when false negatives were factored in. The point
is, without a thorough understanding of identification philosophy, methodology,
and the fundamental principles, the accuracy rate of a latent print examiner may
not be ideal. A competent latent print examiner correctly following the
ACE-V methodology will not make mistakes in latent print examinations. However, we
also realize that articulation of the philosophy and methodology used by that
another issue entirely. That same competent latent print examiner should be able
to articulate the fundamentals of the fingerprint science, but if they can not,
it doesn't necessarily follow that their conclusions are inaccurate.
We know that a competent examiner operates under the ACE-V methodology and
adheres to the most accurate philosophy available. SWGFAST recently
defined the philosophy (or standard) of identification, and also explored
elements of methodology. As soon as those drafts are released for comment, they
will be made available through the Detail. But for now, we know that when
conducting latent print examinations, we are applied scientists, as we apply the
scientific method through ACE-V to a set of impressions. We also
acknowledge that there are elements of art in what we do, but we have to be
careful about how far we take this idea. We become dangerously close to
approaching the position of the administration of the SCRO who hold that
fingerprint examination is an art form, and therefore differing opinions are
acceptable; nobody can be wrong. The flaw is easily recognized as Dave
Grieve recently pointed out on a CLPEX message board post, if not possible for
anyone to be wrong, neither can it be possible for anyone to be right.
Perhaps the wise perspective would be weighted toward science and not art.
What do you think?
The informal CLPEX.com
is available for banter about this week's Detail:
And the onin.com forum
(http://onin.com/fp/wwwbd/) is also available for more formal latent
Next week, we will play it by ear. I have a couple of articles available,
or we may look more in depth at discussion stemming from this week's article on
science. If you have a viewpoint for next week's Detail, send it in!
I'm just an e-mail away at:
CLPEX.com this week...
No major updates on the site this week. But the Ridgeology Science
Workshop in Arlington, Texas went very well! Details and course comments
will be made available on the RSW page of CLPEX.com next week.
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Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.
Have a GREAT week!